My Art Work, Christina Aguilera and ABC’s Nashville

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ABC’s hit series Nashville has bought the rights to use two of my pieces on the set for some upcoming shows. They will appear in Christina Aguilera’s character Jade St John’s dressing room. Both pieces are 72″ x 48″ so they should be hard to miss. Date TBA.

Man on Fire

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I begin most of my pieces with a clear idea of what they are about and an outline of how they will look. With a few images, however (such as The Man with Cello) I began with a visual concept and had to discover their meaning as I went along. These are the hardest pieces to do.

These two pieces, Man on Ice and Man on Fire, I had to discover the meaning as I went along. When I was in St Petersburg, Florida last month I watched a boy throwing bread in the air for a group of seagulls. They were all hovering over him and it made for an amazing visual. I stood and watch them for a few minutes, took a few photos, then moved on. For this piece, I had a clear vision of a man playing a guitar to the sea gulls, but I did not have the meaning behind it.

So I posed a friend playing a guitar and placed him in the image and began searching for the meaning. I looked into mythology, psychology and religion to see what might resonate. Maybe he is Orpheus, the Greek musician and poet who could charm all things. Maybe the birds are messengers. A funny thing happened on the way to finding the meaning. I realized the birds, originally my favorite part of the image, had to go. This is what writers call “ killing your darlings”.

This left me at the beginning again. Now, what is the piece about? Who is this man?

What or who is he looking at? Is he playing the guitar for himself? Did he just want peace and solitude?

As I began working with it, the clues began taking shape. Twice in two days, I came across Copernicus’s illustration, Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres). His illustration places the Sun, not Earth, at the center of the solar system. Since it kept appearing, I included it in the piece. I also added a diagram of a Sun chart, showing it at different locations in the sky during various times of the year, and photos that I’ve taken of splashes of concrete on a train car, which looked to me like stars. I added the fence for visual depth and also to suggest limits or boundaries, imposed or imagined. There is either a fire in the background or a brilliant sunrise.

If I am to understand this piece, I have to begin with the Copernicus illustration. It seems obvious that placing the Sun instead of the Earth at the center of the solar system is a psychological shift, which is a metaphor for the fact that we ourselves, are not the center of the universe.

The figure in both pieces also seems to relish his aloneness. If there is a fire, he is not disturbed by it. This could suggest that it is a psychological fire, something burning inside, or being cleared away or purified. Perhaps in his solitude he has discovered that he is not the center of the universe, and is relieved; perhaps he is celebrating or singing a song of gratitude.








Tea with Mara

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Tea with Mara

There are various versions of this story. This is my summary of the lengthy myth:

Just prior to enlightenment, the Buddha was approached by Mara, the Demon God, along with his daughters and an army representing craving, boredom, passion, anger, and pride. The story goes that Mara tempted and challenged the Buddha to leave his enlightened state and re-enter the world of the mind and ego, but the Buddha did not give in and Mara and his army went away. But not for good.

In the future when Mara would show up with his enticements, the Buddha would invite him in to have tea. Mara would stay a while and then leave, and the Buddha would be left undisturbed.

Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield write, in Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, that we are challenged by hindrances again and again in the course of our lives, and so it is important to learn to work with them when they show up. Pema Chodron writes, “Mara represents the false promise of happiness and security offered by our habitual responses.” However If we are willing to sit what he brings, without fighting, suppressing or ignoring the feelings, we can strengthen, clarify and deepen our awareness and understanding of ourselves and be freed from old patterns and habits.

In my piece, Tea with Mara, I have set the myth in contemporary times and left it up to the viewer to decide who is the Buddha and who is Mara.  In the myth, both are male, but they are meant to represent everyone.

For the creation of this piece, I had people pose in multiple positions and I chose the positions that worked best. The lines in the background are from a vintage astronomy chart, and the words underfoot are from different texts which tell the story of Mara and the Buddha. Between them on the floor is a vintage astronomy chart of a black hole. Two of the books of the table are my creation (Tea with Mara and False Promise of Happiness; the third is Jung’s Man and His Symbols. The “cover” of Jung’s book is a war scene from a vintage Spanish WWI card.  As always, the color and texture from the piece comes from photos that I have taken of weathered paint, paper, rust and other colors and textures I have photographed. The cage on the table, which I found at an antique shop, represents the psychological confinement we suffer unless we become aware of our tendencies, habits and self-made traps.

Artist Talk at Jewish Cultural Center, Chattanooga, Tennessee

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Thanks to the JCC for the invitation to speak about my art and career.  Behind me is a projected photo of me at 9 years old taken at the Milan Mirror Newspaper in Milan, Tennessee for winning awards at the Gibson County Fair. The talk covered my early background, mental health training and my art career.

Running to Catch a Poem

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A few years ago I accompanied my wife to The Gathering, a literary event at Keystone College in Pennsylvania.  It was there that I learned the story of the poet Ruth Stone and how as a young woman she found inspiration.

I have since learned that Elizabeth Gilbert has made this story famous in one of her TED talks (link).  I am not surprised that it has become famous, at least in some circles.  I heard it several years ago and have loved it ever since. Below is a transcribed version

“As [Stone] was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out, working in the fields and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barrelling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming…cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, run like hell to the house as she would be chased by this poem. The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she would be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it, and it would continue on across the landscape looking for ‘another poet’. And then there were these times, there were moments where she would almost miss it. She is running to the house and is looking for the paper and the poem passes through her. She grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her and she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. In those instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact, but backwards, from the last word to the first.“

About the piece.  It was harder than I had imagined to capture this story.  I felt a little like I was in a version of MS Stone’s story, running with everything I had and catching the wrong angle, the wrong color, the wrong way to make the words visual, but still catching enough of it that I held on.

In order to create this piece, I used someone I know to act as though she was running while I photographed her.  I used multiple photos of weathered paint and paper from urban poster walls, sidewalks and the sides of trains for the color and texture.  I photographed the house in rural Lousiana just south of New Orleans and the utility poles between Iowa and Denver.  The words come from a vintage letter that I found in an antique shop and a print out of one of Ms Stone’s poems. Link to Ruth Stone Poetry










Paramore Digital, Nashville, Tennessee

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Friday, July 11, 2014 at Paramore Digital, downtown Nashville, Tennessee.  Top: speaking at Paramore, bottom left to right, work in Paramore facing conference room, speaking in conference room and Anne Brown, owner of the Arts Company, Daryl Thetford and Hannah Paramore

INTRODUCING THE WORLD OF DARYL THETFORD, the Arts Company, Nashville, Tennessee through August 8th, 2014

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NA-July-2014I realized earlier today that I have not posted anything on my blog about my show at the Arts Company on 5th Avenue in downtown Nashville and it is closing on August 8th, 2014. So if you have not seen it, there is still time.

Below is the information on the show which opened on July 5th, 2014 and was followed by a live discussion between me and Paul Polycarpou, editor of the Nashville Arts Magazine on July 11th, 2014. Paul chose my piece, “Man in Chair : World as a Mandala” for the cover of this months magazine.  Paul is the one entertaining the crowd and holding a copy of the magazine in the photo to the right.

INTRODUCING THE WORLD OF DARYL THETFORD at The Arts Company, 5th Avenue, Nahsville, Tennessee

Daryl Thetford offers fresh perspectives to The Arts Company.  He uses thousands of images he has captured from urban places such as crumbling walls, grafitti, signs, etc. He uses a collection of these images as an urban background for all of his finished pieces. His images come together through his layering of his own images. He creates narratives based on classical themes that are given new life in our urban culture. The resulting photographs are printed on aluminum in small editions and coated by his hand three times to protect and brighten the surfaces, again to reflect the effect of urban life as we know it. His finished photographs come across as narratives that are embedded in the images.


Daryl Thetford grew up on a hundred-acre farm in Bradford, Tennessee, a small town in the rural northwest corner of the state. His father was a forklift operator who worked in a warehouse, and his mother was a beautician. While they encouraged their son to pursue so-called “practical” avenues of work, they also recognized an early artistic bent, and enrolled him in oil painting lessons–which he loved–at age nine. Although he went on to obtain a graduate degree in counseling from Murray State University, and spent 15 years working as a vocational program director, mental health center manager, and a therapist, his creative juices never dried up. In 2001, when Thetford left mental health to return to his first love, art, he discovered that the psychology of behavior and emotion–everything he’d been studying and practicing for years–flowed neatly into his artistic process. The result is a compelling body of photo collage work that is informed by the richness of the psyche

Daryl’s work has been described as graphic, modern, pop, and contemporary, although what to actually call the process has been a larger source of debate; it has been called photo collage, digital art, and digital mixed media. The process begins with Thetford selecting a single, original photographic image followed by a digital layering and combining of dozens of additional original photographs. It is a process, which takes an average of 40 hours. His resulting images range from culturally familiar individual pieces (bikes, cowboys, guitars, cityscapes) to more esoteric series’ based on man’s inner struggle with modern society or the human sense of isolation in the noise of the modern world.

Thetford’s recent exhibits include a solo show at the Art Museum at the University of Memphis; an invitation-only group show at the Annenberg Space in Los Angeles; a solo show at the Jung Center in Houston, Texas; and an upcoming show at the Coffman Gallery at the University of Minnesota. His work has also been shown at SOFA Contemporary, Art Dallas, Art Chicago, the Knoxville Museum of Art, Mobile Museum of Art  and others, and is in a number of individual and corporate collections across the nation.

Daryl currently lives with his wife, writer and artist Dana Shavin in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They enjoy travel, great food, great art, and the company of good friends.



Description of Man with Cello

man with a Cello, 54 x 43, 2014

I have been asked a number of times recently to describe Man with Cello and the meaning behind the image.

I began with the idea of a man playing a cello.  The image would be vertical and primarily just him.  Once I created it, however, I was not excited about it and turned it into a horizontal image to allow for more negative space.  I found it too simple with too much open space for my taste, so I added the woman, which I built from two mannequins and a vintage hosiery ad.

I normally have an idea of both the concept and image when I begin.  In this case, however, once I left the idea of a man alone playing cello, nothing flowed into place.  With this void, I struggled more than I do with most of my pieces.  I finally had to just leave it alone for a few weeks.  When I came back to it I added the music and had a visual flash of them on the shore of a body of water.  Again I was stumped and left it for a few weeks.  When I came back to it fresh it was apparent that it is a dialogue.  The dialogue is between two people, and it is also the dialogue within each of them and with their environment.

This is reflected in the music, the push and pull of the No, No, No and the large YES, the rules in black and white, the softer cursive writing that is not quite clear, and, of course, two of the representatives of external communication, phone and TV.

The writing in the bottom of the piece is a quote by English novelist Iris Murdoch which says that when you begin to acknowledge that people exist outside yourself (as real living beings, not as objects in your world) you are taking the first step away from narcissism.

The Chinese and English on the woman’s flesh is from a book titled Five Fold Happiness.  Since I have used bits and fragments, it is nonsensical, and is meant to be representative of luck, prosperity, longevity, happiness and wealth.

Now the dialogue is between the viewer and the piece.


Trying Not to Try

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Recently I have been “trying not to try.” I have to say that I don’t love holding opposing concepts in my mind. While I understand the idea intellectually, I have always functioned by choosing between opposites and living the chosen one. But my therapist assures me that choosing to live in the opposites creates the tension that allows broader decisions to be made.

A couple of weeks ago while in New Orleans I was reading about a book called Trying Not to Try, by Edward Slingerland. In the opening of the book, a game called “Mind Ball” is introduced: two participants are seated at opposite ends of a table with a ball between them. The point of the game is to get the ball to the opponent’s end of the table using only brain waves. To this end, electrodes which measure radiate alpha and theta waves (these indicate deep relaxation) are connected to the players’ heads. It is a paradoxical contest of effortful effortlessness, whereby the more relaxed the players can make themselves, the faster they are able to send the ball to their opponent’s side of the table.

After fighting my work process all winter, whereby I set up too many things to do without enough time to do them, the concept of “trying not to try”–of effortless effort–spoke to me. It gave me hope that it’s possible to achieve both relaxed concentration AND productivity–and that I might, as a result, find myself both industrious AND sane. Who would have guessed? Maybe the Voodoo Priestess I met in New Orleans, but that’s a story for another blog post.


Man in Chair

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Last year I went on a trip out west with a good friend.  I went into the trip knowing that we have very different ways of interacting with the world.  When traveling, I am rigidly on time, often arriving at scheduled events long before they begin. I schedule my 3 ½ star hotel rooms well in advance and choose my meals carefully.

My friend, on the other hand, has a more casual relationship with time and destinations.  He often leaves hours later than he planned, makes multiple unscheduled stops and drives well into the night.   It is not lost on either of us that he is the happier person.

Since I know our style differences, I also realized that a two week trip could create great stress for our friendship.  So I vowed that I was going to say YES to everything with a couple of very modest exceptions: I would not drive after midnight, and we would have to arrive at shows on time.  At some point during the trip he suddenly turned to me and said “ You are agreeing to everything”. I am, I said, “ I am calling it my YES Tour. “ I told him that it would be interesting to see how this little bit of letting go impacted me.

With his discovery of my experiment, things quickly got interesting.  We took an unscheduled site seeing trip into the mountains with someone we did not know, told the chef at an amazing restaurant to bring anything he wanted to bring, and made arrangements to stay on a houseboat instead of a hotel.

This was life changing.  I did not know how much it changed me until I began winter in my usual way with stacks of books to read, multiple ideas for series and a 1000 art and exhibit opportunities to apply to.  I made the same choice I usually make: do it all instead of to prioritizing based on the reality of time and energy.  This is an old pattern passed down for generations in my family which has created various results including never missing work, a perfectly manicured yard, premature aging, needless suffering and multiple levels of neurosis.

I was shocked to realize that, unlike in the past, I was unable to complete everything that I had laid out for the winter. Not only did I not get everything done, I did not even get close.  As a result of the Yes Tour, some part of me had decided that letting go was a strategy that made sense.

I am guessing now that my unconscious had a plan all along.  It was a setup to overthrow the internal dictator that often over schedules my life.  Life was not just one big Yes after the Yes Tour however.  Although my new system was in agreement with the Yes that chose to go with the flow of life, it balked at the Yes that agreed to do everything on every list.

This was scary since I have always functioned by over-controlling.   So I began to ask myself just how, if I am to work with this new system, can I remain productive without being compulsive.

More on this and the “Wu Wei” tour planned for summer.



Wake Up

Wake Up w Mask

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While the image Wake Up is not new, this is the first and only one that is 84″ x 74″. I deliver it today in Tampa.

The two somewhat crude images are a “selfie” of me in the studio coating it and one of the final diptych leaning against my garage for size perspective.

Commission Finished

Commission Completed

This commission consists of 4 separate pieces. Each piece consists of documents, maps, names of places they have worked and other information that is personal and important to each of them. It is seldom that I do a personal commission, but I am pleased with the way these turned out.

The Second Question


Woman w a Halo : A Modern Icon.
This piece is 36″ x 54″, inkjet on aluminum, edition of 9, completed March, 2014.

I mentioned previously that I am frequently asked two questions.The first question (and answer) was included with my post, “Two New Pieces and Two Frequently Asked Questions.” This is the answer to question #2 (which is really a statement): ”You must have a lot of fun doing these.”
It’s true, I do have fun. Especially for the first 20 hours or so, when I’m most excited about the new piece and it doesn’t yet feel hard. After composing the initial piece however, and getting its structure how I want it, the effort becomes, like the collages themselves, fun, fragmented, stressful, obsessive, frustrating, tedious, frightening, playful and all-consuming.
Here’s a brief description of the process. I usually start with an idea and then look for a photograph I’ve taken that might fit it. This becomes a dialogue between the idea and the image. I find that often the choice of the image changes the concept a bit–sometimes quite a bit–depending on the image and how different it is from my original vision.
At other times, I stumble across a photograph I took months or even years earlier, which for some reason now speaks to me. The same dialogue then ensues about the nature of the direction I or we ( we = photograph + idea and me ) want the piece to follow.
At this point I begin experimenting with multiple photographs that I’ve taken, of painted surfaces, text, road signs, weathered wooden walls, torn paper on urban poster walls, paint on train cars, paint on sidewalks, etc. From this I create the foundation of the piece and begin adding other, larger elements. I progress this way for hours.
Often this all happens over the course of a day or so, leaving me with the foundation of the piece and the crazy notion that I’m only 2 or 3 hours away from finishing it, even though I have never finished a piece this quickly. (Balancing Act took more time than almost any piece I have ever done.) I think the answer is contained in what a friend of mine once said about self-help books. Because they “almost” work, she said, we believe the next one will fully work. Same with “almost” finishing an art piece quickly. Surely, the next time I really will!

Two New Pieces and Two Frequently Asked Questions


Balancing Act, 36″ x 62″, inkjet on aluminum, 2014

I am frequently asked two questions. The first is, “How long does it take you to do one of these?” The second is almost always in the form of a statement: “I’ll bet you have a lot of fun doing these.”
Neither answer is simple. To the “how long” question, the answer is “around 40 hours.” This is just an average, and doesn’t take into consideration the time I spend taking all of the photographs, or the times that I trash an image I’ve spent many hours working on because it’s not going anywhere. Then there’s the issue of my obsessive indecisiveness, whereby I declare something finished only to return to it the next morning to find that the piece spoiled during the night and needs more work.
Balancing Act, included with this post, is a case in point. Its true name should be Balancing Act #10 or #12. This is because I “finished” it a few months ago, so quickly that I was amazed and pleased it did not take the usual 40 or more hours. I then posted it, only to realize it still had significant issues. So I began working on it again until it was truly “finished.” This “finishing” and reworking went on so long I finally decided that the piece (and I) needed time to breathe. I recently returned to Balancing Act with an open and positive attitude, and I’m happy to say that it is really, finally finished…again….for now.
Why, you might be asking, was Balancing Act such a struggle to “finish?” I’d say it has something to do with the lack of balance that I felt this winter. So to end the longest rambling answer to a simple question, my pieces often take more hours than I can justify, for reasons that have everything to do with the intersection of life and art.

Here’s hoping we all have a balanced spring.

The Art Museum at The University of Memphis is showing STRUGGLE TO EVOLVE BEFORE THE END OF TIME.

journey to the next day

This is my series on our struggle and our interaction with the world and our inner reaction to it
Here is a link to the Museum Website.

This is my series on our struggle and our interaction with the world and our inner reaction to it
Here is a link to the Museum Website.

Reflections and Resolutions : Creating New Worlds in Digital Art, Lincoln Center, Fort Collins, CO.

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This 4 person exhibition opened January 17th, 2014 and will run through March 8th, 2014.  The show was curated by Jeanne Shoaff who selected 12 pieces from my The Struggle to Evolve Before the End of Time series.  Several of these pieces will also be on display beginning March 28th at the Art Museum at the University of Memphis Caseworks Gallery.

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